Trish Stratus and Amy “Lita” Dumas are best friends for sure. They’re both retired WWE superstars, both pioneers of today’s style of women’s wrestling, both successful entrepreneurs outside of the ring. Stratus inducted Lita into the WWE Hall of Fame. Lita is godmother to Stratus’ son.
Stratus and Lita were celebrity guests at Comicpalooza in Houston on May 11. They were the featured stars of a panel discussion called “Team Besties.” I was the panel moderator. I thought my first question was a good one, to get the ball rolling.
“What do you find in each other that makes you best friends?” Stratus looked at me, paused a moment, and said, “I’m going to let you answer that question. Why do you think we’re best friends?”
So that’s how it’s going to be? Look, I’ve got 20 questions ready for you and Lita, you expect me to answer them for you? Isn’t this what got Lori Loughlin in trouble?
Dog steals the show
I knew it was going to be a bumpy ride when I introduced Lita and she brought a small tote bag with her onstage, unzipped it and out popped her dog, McKenzie, a 16-year-old Yorkie. McKenzie gave me a good sniff and a couple of licks. I got into journalism with dreams of being a serious journalist, making a difference, keeping politicians honest. Now I’m hosting a panel discussion at Comicpalooza, in front of grownups dressed like Marvel Comics characters, interviewing two women wrestlers while I’m wrestling with a Yorkie. I wanted to be Woodward and Bernstein — wound up Barnum and Bailey.
Comicpalooza is the biggest comic book, sci-fi, anime, gaming, and pop culture event in Texas. Some 50,000 people attended over three days at the George R. Brown Convention Center. A hundred celebrities, cartoonists, voice actors, writers, astronauts, and professional video game players met their fans, posed for photos, signed autographs and held panel discussions and question-and-answer sessions. There were quidditch lessons on the third floor. The biggest draw of Comicpalooza was actress Emilia Clark, the Mother of Dragons in Game of Thrones. Not bad timing, huh?
The “Team Bestie” panel was held in the 1,000-seat general assembly room at the George R. Brown. I met Stratus and Lita backstage and, as directed, asked them if any topic was off-limits. They said, don’t worry, if anybody or anything gets out of hand, we’ll handle it. I had no doubts about that. Stratus insisted on sitting on the far right of the panel table. Lita sat to her left. Then the dog. Then me.
I’m a fan of Stratus and Lita. Out of respect for them and pro wrestling, I took moderating this panel discussion seriously. I wanted it to be informative and interesting, like a Sunday morning news program.
The best of The Besties
I asked Stratus and Lita, “We all have best friends, but generally speaking, we don’t smash their heads into a turnbuckle every night across America and around the world like you did. Did that ever get in the way of your friendship?
Lita said, “No, we knew each other’s moves so well, we knew what to expect.”
When you were on the road, what did you do when you were so sore you couldn’t get out of bed? Both chimed, “We got out of bed.”
When you retired from wrestling fulltime, did you let go and eat everything that was on your no-no list?
Stratus waved her hand, “I did! I went to McDonald’s and held my head down in my car so people wouldn’t see me.”
I had never met Stratus or Lita, so I didn’t know what to expect. Turned out they were charming and high energy. They were funny, too. At least Lita thought it was funny when she fed dried seaweed to her dog and saw me scrunch my face. She broke off a piece and insisted that I try some. It may have been the most disgusting thing I’ve ever eaten. It was crunchy and reeked and tasted like rotten fish. (Just for the record, Senator Mitch McConnell has never made Chuck Todd eat seaweed on Meet the Press.)
Lita is a devoted dog person. She adopted McKenzie from a shelter, and runs the animal charity Amy Dumas Operation Rescue and Education (ADORE). That impressed me so much that I tried my hardest not to gag on the seaweed. I ducked under the table so the audience didn’t see me spit it out.
Stratus owns a yoga studio in her native Canada, where she’s a film actress, reality TV star, and commercial spokesperson. Both wore their WWE Hall of Fame rings. Stratus was inducted in 2013, Lita the following year.
This was the first time that I’ve moderated a panel discussion. My goal was to make sure only one person spoke at a time. I can’t watch CNN anymore because the hosts, especially Chris Cuomo, let arguing guests shout each other down. It’s annoying and unproductive and unwatchable.
Unleashing the talking stick
So I brought my talking stick. About 10 years ago, I visited Kenya and attended a Masai village meeting. The leader held a beaded stick, a talking stick, and only the person holding it could speak. If you wanted to say something, you raised your hand, and they’d pass the talking stick to you. What a smart way to hold a meeting. I brought home a souvenir talking stick. A few months later, I told guests at Thanksgiving dinner that nobody could speak unless I passed the talking stick to them. I figured maybe that’ll shut ‘em up. You can imagine how that went over. The talking stick didn’t make it past the cheese and crackers.
I had the talking stick in my pocket at Comicpalooza in case the audience turned into an unruly mob, yelling questions like a White House press conference. I didn’t have to worry. Stratus and Lita have done these pop culture conventions before and Lita laid down the law like a drill instructor. She had fans lined up and ready to ask questions like the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld.
I need to invite Lita to my next Thanksgiving dinner.